The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has chosen three candidates to be judges on Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, says the head of the party’s parliamentary caucus, Ryszard Terlecki, in conversation with the Polish Press Agency.
Two of the figures, both of them PiS MPs until last month, are likely to arouse controversy: Stanisław Piotrowicz, who has been criticised for his former service as a state prosecutor during the communist era; and Krystyna Pawłowicz, an outspoken figure on the party’s hard right.
The Constitutional Tribunal is the body entrusted with assessing and resolving disputes over the constitutionality of legislation and international agreements, as well as disputes over the powers of constitutional bodies and whether the activities of political parties’ conform with the constitution.
It has been at the centre of disputes over PiS’s judicial reforms in the party’s first term, when the party engineered its candidate into the court’s presidency (in an apparent breach of procedures). Judges appointed by the PiS-led parliament – most of whom have ties to the party – have a majority on the tribunal.
On 3 December this year, the nine-year terms of three further judges on the tribunal will end, giving parliament the opportunity to nominate their replacements, who would then need to be sworn in by President Andrzej Duda, himself a former PiS MP whose candidacy was supported by the party.
Terlecki today confirmed that the PiS parliamentary caucus has nominated three candidates for the positions: Piotrowicz, Pawłowicz, and Elżbieta Chojna-Duch, a professor of law who served as deputy finance minister under the former Civic Platform-led government (and who has recently given testimony that has supported claims of failings by that government to prevent abuses of the tax system).
Piotrowicz’s nomination will be particularly contentious. He served as a state prosecutor from 1978, and joined Poland’s communist party in the same year. During the period of martial law in the early 1980s, he was involved in an indictment against an activist, Antoni Pikul, opposed to the communist regime.
Piotrowicz has recently claimed that he was actually trying to help Pikul, though Pikul himself says he was not aware of any such assistance. In 1984, Piotrowicz was awarded a Cross of Merit by the communist authorities.
Controversial PiS MP Stanisław Piotrowicz, who was a communist state prosecutor in the 80s, says that in fact he was 'a victim of martial law'. He repeats claim that when involved in a case against a democracy activist, he tried to help him. However…1/2 https://t.co/gNyGBR7NfG
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 13, 2018
After being elected as a PiS MP in 2005, Piotrowicz rose to become a prominent figure in the party. Following its return to power in 2015, he was made chairman of the parliamentary justice and human rights committee. From that position he oversaw the passage through parliament of the government’s controversial judicial reforms. He was also made a member of the reformed National Council of the Judiciary, which is responsible for nominating judges.
However, at last month’s election Piotrowicz lost his seat in parliament, after failing to win enough votes.
Given that PiS presents itself as anti-communist, and claims that its changes to the judicial system are designed to purge the presence and influence of members of the former communist regime, the fact that the party gave Piotrowicz a leading role in implementing those reforms has led to accusations of hypocrisy. His nomination to the Constitutional Tribunal will renew such accusations.
Krystyna Pawłowicz’s nomination will also arouse controversy. She is a professor of law, who served as a judge on Poland’s State Tribunal in 2007-11 and currently sits on the National Council of the Judiciary. However, it was as a PiS MP from 2011 until this year (when she did not stand for re-election) that she is best known, in particular for her outspoken remarks on social media.
Among other statements, she has said that Poland is in a “culture war” against the “Soros agenda, leftist moral pathologies”; has condemned “fifth columnists without Polish genes” who are “attacking the [Polish] state” from within; has called the LGBT community “sexually disturbed, sick people who should be treated”; and described the anniversary of joining the European Union as a “sad day”, saying that Poland needs to “defend itself against EU-leftist cultural aggression”.
Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.